Date: March 21, 2007
Author: David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Mark Small is fed up with being portrayed as a bloodthirsty killer for his part in an annual cull in which about 300,000 young seals are shot or clubbed to death on ice floes off Canada's east coast.

"It gives you a terrible feeling as a human being," said Small, a veteran hunter in the Atlantic province of Newfoundland. "We're not a cruel, savage race that came out of the forest somewhere."

As animal rights activists gear up for their protest against this year's hunt, the sealers complain no one wants to hear their side of the story. The hunt is a humane operation closely monitored by Ottawa, clubbing seals is the best way of killing them, and it supports a they say.

But their media-savvy opponents are sure to get yet more pictures of men beating small harp seals with clubs on red-stained ice -- a public relations nightmare for the seal hunters and for the Canadian government.

The protesters, backed by rock star Paul McCartney and former French actress Brigitte Bardot, say killing animals for their fur is barbaric.

"We know that this hunt is cruel and unsustainable and quite frankly should have been ended many decades ago," said Rebecca Aldworth of the Humane Society of the United States.

The main part of the hunt takes place in April off the Newfoundland coast, a hard place to reach. Most media attention focuses on the first stage, near the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St Lawrence, which this year is due to start March 28.

"They've said publicly that we are barbarians and we massacre seals," said Jean-Claude Lapierre, head of the seal hunters' association on the Magdalen Islands. "Our reputation has been sullied across the planet."

Some hunters fear the activists will succeed and kill off a centuries-old way of life.

The European Union's executive commission, pressured by the European Parliament to ban all Canadian seal products, says it will investigate the hunt. Aldworth is optimistic.

"I think the implications are very serious for the Canadian seal hunt. I think it spells the end of commercial sealing in Canada," she said. Her remarks were condemned by Canada's fisheries minister, Loyola Hearn, himself no friend of the protesters.

"Their efforts have been futile and I can understand why they're now grasping at straws and twisting the truth any way they can," he said, dismissing the animal rights groups as money-grubbers.
Critics say the fact that the bodies of seals jerk around after being clubbed shows the animals are suffering. Sealers describe the movements as muscle spasms and insist that a well-aimed blow with the blunt end of a hackapick club causes instantaneous death.
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